Dec 20, 2021

Texas College Republicans Secede from National Organization Because of ‘Rigged’ Election

Reporting Texas

Illustration by Michael Minasi

On a cool November evening at Scholz Garten, a historic restaurant in downtown Austin, four students from the University of Texas sat on the open patio drinking beer, eating sausage and arguing over whether the Houston Astros could re-sign star shortstop Carlos Correa.

As members of the College Republicans at Texas — a UT student organization that brings conservative speakers to campus, hosts social events and assists in campaigns for Texas GOP candidates — their conversation turned to politics. 

“(U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw) looks cool as hell with the eye patch,” said Carter Korb, a business major who worked for the Republican congressman from Houston as a Junior Ambassador in high school.

Grant Rommel, president of the College Republicans at Texas, sat next to Korb with his dog, Keating, a miniature Australian shepherd named after Robin Williams’s character in the film “Dead Poets Society.”

“Yeah, I mean, he does look like a badass,” said Rommel, who is also the political director of the Texas Federation of College Republicans, the organizing body that oversees the state’s College Republican chapters.

But Rommel argued that Crenshaw had lost his platform to influence the Republican Party when he started talking down to conservatives who believed President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

“Like look, full disclosure, Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and I am totally in agreement with that statement,” Rommel said. “But like, the last thing you want to do is be condescending to the people who think he didn’t lose because you’re going to lose them forever if you do.”

Although these College Republicans accepted the results of the 2020 presidential election, they did not acknowledge the outcome of their organization’s own recent national election.

On Aug. 16, the Texas Federation of College Republicans seceded by unanimous consent from the College Republican National Committee because the Texas College Republicans claimed the election for CRNC chair was fraudulent.

The CRNC is the national organization for the College Republicans. It is composed of all the state federations and claims to have more than 250,000 members across the country with a presence on almost 2,000 college campuses.

“To be quite honest, (the) College Republicans was the first kind of major conservative organization on a national level that had impact in elections and everything. I mean, we’ve been here since, well, before Karl Rove was running the thing,” Rommel said, speaking of President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist. “Rove is known as one of the most important College Republicans in our history.”

As a chapter president, Rommel was one of the delegates who voted for secession, which happened to fall on his birthday.

At issue was the race for CRNC chair between Southern Regional Vice Chair Courtney Britt and Western Regional Vice Chair Judah Waxelbaum. It was fraught from the start, Rommel said. 

“There had been malfeasance on the national board for a long time that, you know, our state federation had been very vocal against,” Rommel added.

The Texans accused the national group of financial wrongdoing and concealing access to the organization’s constitution. 

The Texas Republicans endorsed Waxelbaum, who ran on a platform of transparency.

“(Waxelbaum) wanted a very open system, allowing all of the different state federations to see the constitution, see what is happening with money and what is going on in the national level in all aspects,” said Kevin Thomas, executive director of the Texas Federation of College Republicans. “That’s something that the CRNC desperately needs if it wants to continue surviving.”

To vote in the CRNC chair election, every state federation had to apply for delegates from the CRNC, who determined the number of delegates each state federation would be awarded as outlined in the national constitution.

But 11 state federations were not allowed to vote in the CRNC election, according to a statement by the Texas Federation of College Republicans in July 2021.

“A lot of states had applied for delegates, and according to a new, quote, ‘interpretation’ of the national constitution, which is not publicly available, the state federations were not allowed to vote, according to this new, quote unquote, ‘interpretation,’” Rommel said. “The big problem with that is that every single one of the state federations that was deemed ineligible to vote was supporting Judah Waxelbaum and not Courtney Britt.”

“Once this election happened and we tried to get a reform candidate put in and elected, they rigged the election against (Waxelbaum),” Rommel added. “So, we said, ‘We’ve had enough of this. Obviously, there’s no way in fixing this, so we’re going to go and leave,’”

The Texas College Republicans were not the first to secede from the CRNC. In July 2021, both the Mississippi and New York Federations of College Republicans seceded.

Britt did not respond to multiple interview requests, and Waxelbaum declined to be interviewed for this story.

Amy Binder and Jeffrey Kidder, two sociology professors who have written extensively about the intersection of politics and higher education, co-authored the academic article “Trumpism on College Campuses” based on their research interviewing members of conservative political clubs at four public universities. They said the types of political discourse used by club members can have significant implications for American democracy in the future.

“Activism, especially on the right, is funded by deep-pocketed donors and supported through a network of national organizations,” Binder and Kidder wrote. “This investment has become part of a battle over the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Universities are one of the epicenters for the conflict.”

Despite national media reports of infighting of College Republicans, chapter presidents at UT, Texas State, Baylor and Texas Christian University all said their membership and engagement numbers have increased since voting to secede.

“In total, we probably had about 200 new members sign up this year, this semester alone,” said Matthew Smith, president of the College Republicans at Texas State University. Smith said total membership for his chapter is around 500 people.

“We definitely are seeing a surge right now,” said Thomas, who reports that total statewide membership is above 3,000 members.

Looking toward the future, something needs to replace the CRNC, which is fundamentally broken, Thomas said.

“We’re looking to move forward on a national level,” Thomas added. “We do have a plan in place, but we haven’t been incredibly vocal about it, since we’re still wanting to finalize things on paper first. But there is a plan.”

“The Good Times Are Killing Me” by Modest Mouse played on the speakers at Scholz Garten as the small group of Texas College Republicans continued their discussion about the 2020 presidential election.

“I don’t blame them,” Korb said about Republicans who believed the election was stolen. 

“The facts are the facts, but it’s also hard to listen to people who tell you (Trump) lost, but you’ve been thinking that these same people have been telling you lies for the past four years,” he said.

The waitress came to the table and picked up empty glasses, but Rommel wasn’t distracted from the conversation. 

“Obviously, it’s a very contentious situation,” Rommel said. “You are risking causing more divisions when, if you’re really well-intentioned, you don’t go say, ‘You’re a retard,” or, ‘You’re stupid.’ ”